ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — Mayor R.J. Berry and his administration are proposing sweeping changes to the city's independent administrative hearing office, after News 13 uncovered multiple cases of abuse by hearing officers.
The mayor is pushing a move that would bring the department under the office of the city clerk in order to rein in the corruption.
A Larry Barker investigation found hearing officer Anita Reina disappeared for up to 20 hours a week but collected her full-time city salary, while she was off presiding as judge in San Felipe Tribal Court. Another News 13 report found her boss, Roberto Albertorio, also was quietly running a private law practice out of his city office. Both Reina and Albertorio resigned from the city jobs.
"Flying under radar is an understatement as far as the abuses that were able to occur," said Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry.
Perry said the pair was able to work their side jobs undetected because the hearing office reported to no one.
"You really have no supervision and no rules apply," said Perry.
Perry said the administration is proposing to city council to remove the independence of the hearing office by bringing it under the authority of the city clerk, who is nominated by the mayor but approved by council. The Office of Administrative Hearing rules on citizen complaints, such as handicapped parking tickets, DWI car seizures and zoning disputes. The office also rules on the city's personnel issues.
Councilor Debbie O'Malley calls it a "knee jerk reaction." She said the city clerk is still beholden to the mayor.
"That's not independent of the city," said O'Malley "I don't believe you can have a fair hearing if your boss or your bosses get to decide what actions to take."
O'Malley said citizens contesting citations wouldn't get a fair deal either.
But Perry disagrees, saying there will be safeguards to make sure everyone gets a fair hearing.
"You have the opportunity to recuse or excuse an officer as well as appeal to the courts saying there was undue influence and the like," said Perry.
Another reason the mayor wants to downsize the hearing office is because its case load has shrunk. Most of the hearings dealt with red-light camera complaints, according to Perry, but the cameras have been turned off since late last year.
The proposal passed through the Finance and Government Operations committee Monday night. It goes to the full council in August.
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